Librarian 101 via English 101

So, my first semester as a professional academic librarian is over and our students will return for part two next week. I’m not sure I have much in the way of either highlights or low points, specifically, but I have gotten some good experience. My weeding project is continuing at a steady pace, I’ve had some good and bad reference interactions, and I’d like to work more closely with Humanities faculty as part of my liaison duties.

I received my best experience this fall by being thrown into instruction, specifically in our busy English 101 season. I had purposefully finished my MLIS program with an Instruction course so that I’d have it fresh in my mind once the fall semester began wherever I found employment. I figured that as an entry-level librarian I’d be doing some kind of basic instruction right away and while I got a little time to observe my colleagues, pretty soon I was up there by myself. I did eight English 101 class sessions this past semester, which is a fair amount at a small school like Norwich, and really enjoyed myself.

What was frustrating was trying to get past the preconceived notions others in the profession had given me about trying to teach research skills to college freshmen. I kept hearing things like “they can’t be taught,” or “just try to keep them awake” from some of the folks around me. I may have been just young and optimistic, but I really began the semester hoping to engage with the students and help them make the transition to college work. I think in many ways my lack of experience was a good thing, as it helped me be more loose and open with both what I was expecting from my students as well as how I structured my session (it also helps that I’m a fast-talking city boy who can cram a lot into 50 minutes). I’m not so naïve as to believe that I can relate to them as peers (I will be 30 this spring), but I hope to at least come off as approachable and knowledgeable while selling them our services as both pathways to success as well as time-savers. A former colleague of mine once told me that her goal in an English 101 one-shot was not to teach them a million things about research but just to appear friendly and open enough that the students would come back and seek her out once they were ready to use what we have to teach. That seems like a better strategy than throwing everything at them, worrying about keeping them awake, or assuming they’re too dense to get it in the first place.

There’s also a lot of educational theory that I learned last Spring that I should return to so that I can improve for this semester, but I’m glad that I got off to a good start and still have some enthusiasm for working with our students. I hope I can retain that enthusiasm through the fall as I’ve now been asked to work with the English faculty responsible for the 101 curriculum and insure that our information literacy component is at least present in every section and increased where it already exists.

Thanks again for your support, and I’ll see you at Midwinter next week!

4 thoughts on “Librarian 101 via English 101

  1. Thanks for sharing your insights, Josh. It is hard trying to impart everything you feel you need to in just 50 minutes, but I really think you have the right attitude about instruction. I agree that even if the only thing students take away from the one-shot is that you’re friendly and available anytime, then you’ve been successful. Congratulations on getting to collaborate with the English faculty — I know I (and others, I’m sure) would like to hear about your experiences with that!

  2. Josh, I think the fact that you and I both started here in the past couple of years is a benefit to us in terms of our ability to instruct Gen Y students. Where our colleagues are used to teaching in a specific way (that they’ve been doing a decade or two or three), we can come in and tailor our instructional style to the needs and attention spans of our current students. Our colleagues might laugh at us for throwing candy at students and making students be more active participants in the class, but I see a much more alert population sitting in front of us and I think that’s a victory in itself.

    This isn’t to say that someone with lots of experience can’t be really good at engaging Gen Y students, but it requires change for them, and that’s not something everyone will embrace. Some people will choose to see it as a failing in the students instead of being willing to reassess how they are providing instruction.

    So I think in some ways, inexperience and coming to things with fresh eyes can be a good thing.

  3. I totally agree with you about many of these points. I too have received a lot of conflicting information about my first instruction sessions. I heard everything from my students are “damaged” to unable to learn.

    I did my best to just ignore all of that information and do what you do: try just to teach the durn classes.

    Your post inspired me to do a little quick statwork, here’s what I can report from my first quarter of teaching:

    over the course of about 10 weeks I taught 15 courses in 7 distinct program areas. That’s 300 students, 995 minutes of teaching, 465 minutes of prep work, and about 100 cough drops.

    When I look at it that way I am bowled over by how many minutes of opportunity this place has offered me!

    Congratulations on surviving the first term, onward and upward…

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